The sun was coming up over the dusty and hazy skyline of southeastern Beijing when our taxi made a U-turn and came to a stop in front of a large, industrial-looking building. “Is this it?” my fellow traveler, Susan, asked me. “Yeah, according to the map,” I replied. The cabdriver hit his hand against the back of the seat to get our attention and pointed to the meter. Oh, yeah, he wanted to be paid, I thought. I dug into my bag, pulled out a handful of yuan, and handed them to him. We left the cab, guidebook in hand, and stood alone somewhere in Beijing on a Saturday morning.

We were in search of a famous antiques flea market that was ...

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